The workforce is being faced with something new – the entrance of Gen Z into a predominantly Boomer, Gen X, and Millenial space. Managers and business owners alike are tasked with hiring Gen Z and assimilating the younger generation into their business practices. There may be some apprehension about this task, as Gen Z, also called “Zoomers,” has a reputation for having some different priorities than the past generations in terms of personal boundaries, including in the workplace.
However, it’s important to realize that Gen Z is the future, so companies should be open to what they’re bringing to the table! That being said, here’s a field guide to your Gen Z coworker so that you can turn what seems to be a challenge into an opportunity.
Gen Z covers anyone born between 1997-2012, meaning this generation is currently aged between 10-25. As previously mentioned, Gen Z’s reputation stands for itself. This includes standing strong in their values, prioritizing their own well-being, and vocally supporting human rights and equity. This generation is breaking past the expectations of a “cookie-cutter” life and truly focusing on living as individually as possible. For example, where the past generations may have strived for the life path of graduating college by 22, getting married by 26, and having kids by 33, Gen Z is freeing themselves of those expectations and just living on their own accord and on their own timeline. All-in-all, Gen Z is passionate, self-assured, and now, bursting into the adult world!
Gen Z realizes that they have options and they will absolutely prioritize themselves and their mental health over loyalty to any company. Therefore, ensuring that you can provide a healthy and supportive workspace will benefit both your young candidate as well as your organization in the short and long term. So, what are the keys to managing Gen Z in the workplace? Here’s what’s important:
The key to being properly prepared for Gen Z is accepting and understanding that the younger generation looks at work from a completely different perspective from their counterparts within the Millennial and Generation X groups. There’s a totally different set of priorities – instead of making life fit around work, we make it a point to fit work into our lives. Respecting Gen Z’s heightened emphasis on work-life balance is a huge benefit, not only to your Gen Z team members, but to your older team members as well! The sooner we realize the value of our own time outside of the office, the better. With more freedom to explore our personal interests and to spend time with loved ones, we are all far more likely to spend our time at work as efficiently and effectively as possible. The core benefit of implementing this into your business practices is avoiding burnout – something that impacts employees regardless of age or seniority within your company.
The days of employers being able to put up a smokescreen and keep their employees in the dark about what’s going on behind the scenes are over. Gen Z is, to an extent, shifting the workplace power balance. Instead of simply placing their careers in the hands of their employers, the new generation is making sure they’re in the driver’s seat and that they are fully informed on anything and everything that could affect them. Not only is transparency essentially becoming a prerequisite for Gen Z to even consider staying with a job, but it’s sure to improve the relationship between employees and upper management! If employees are confident that they have a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship with their company and that they aren’t being taken advantage of, the quality of the professional relationship is sure to benefit.
It’s no secret that oftentimes, companies will claim that they support certain values and initiatives but turn around and do the exact opposite. Gen Z is looking for organizations that support the same causes and initiatives that they care about, and not just in a performative sense. In fact, a recent survey from JobSage found that over 4 in 5 (82%) members of Gen Z believe it’s important for employers to take a stand on social issues.
Previously, there was a wall between work and personal values, and mixing the two was not advisable. However, now that basic human rights are being called into question far too often and people are actively fighting back, these values have become a primary concern for young people in the workforce. That’s why it is crucial that you not only have DEI initiatives in place, but that you actively support them, both morally and financially, and actually make a considerable impact on your community.
Having laid out these points, what can HR do to accommodate and support them and reassure Gen Z team members that these aspects are being prioritized?
To start, making sure your team is supported by HR is the key to retention and employee satisfaction, so you definitely need to communicate the steps that you are taking to meet your team’s needs. In terms of work-life balance, reiterate the importance of life outside of the office and that the company fully respects that boundary. Times have changed and work is not people’s entire lives anymore. Take a look at your PTO policies and make sure they reflect that statement. Something else to note along these lines is that Gen Z is much more independent than you may think. Consider utilizing a flexible HRIS, such as GoCo, that gives your new team members the power to enroll in their own benefits, view their own employee profile, and access their own documents. The key here is that it’s all digital, and this generation is the most well-versed in the digital world. Additionally, understand that life is incredibly unpredictable. If something comes up for a team member, instead of worrying about the work implications first, think about how you can best support your team member. Your employees are sure to pick up on this and appreciate you for it.
Transparency is extremely easy and extremely important to implement into your work practices. If there’s nothing to hide, there should be no problem with this one. However, if there is, it’s time to reassess whatever you don’t want your team to know and ask if it is truly in your team’s best interest. If your employees have questions about the organization, policies, or really anything that impacts them, make your best effort to directly answer the question with full honesty. Nothing is more frustrating than when you’re seeking information and you can only get beat-around-the-bush answers.
As for the prioritization of DEI initiatives, this one takes some work. Have a DEI team that’s responsible for coming up with initiatives that take current events into account and support marginalized communities. Meet with company leadership to talk about the company’s budget and see how much of that can be put towards DEI. Most importantly, don’t just talk about it. As a team, get out there into your community and actively support the communities that you discuss. Talk without action is as good as no talk at all. However, if and when your organization has a solid dedication to DEI, it makes the work that you do even more impactful than before and it makes your company more attractive to potential young candidates!
Attracting Gen Z candidates to your company doesn’t have to be Mission Impossible. While this generation may seem like a whole new mountain to climb, recruiters can take note from the past adjustments they’ve made to attract Millennial talent when they were the new entrants to the workforce. Here’s what those adjustments may have looked like:
Millennials started the notable push for work to be meaningful and actually have a bigger impact as opposed to simply working like a machine for no notable outcomes. Gen Z takes this one step further. As a generation growing up in times riddled with political and social conflict as well as a global health crisis, it’s important to this generation that their 8 work hours are spent doing something worthwhile for the greater good. However, Gen Z is also entering the workforce when inflation is at astounding levels. Therefore, don’t think you can get away with lowballing these newcomers when it’s time to extend that offer. This generation knows their worth, especially in today’s unpredictable workforce and world as a whole!
Millennials also started the push for more environmentally-friendly workplaces. As the climate crisis worsens, Gen Z is onboard with this sentiment. Many are interested in a potential employer’s environmental stewardship. They want to be part of organizations that make positive contributions. Working in sustainable environments is also important. Companies that practice sustainability policies and encourage practices such as ridesharing and biking to work often appeal to Millennials and Gen Z alike.
Millennials and Gen Z apply for jobs from mobile devices and they want to get information conveniently. They are prepared to compare benefits and fill out paperwork online. Questions will arise, but it will be just as acceptable for them to instant message as it would be to call HR managers.
These factors impact employers in multiple ways. Among them:
Adeptness with social media is another plus for the younger generations. Frankly, it’s a necessity at this point. For employers, this can be a double-edged sword. The reach and promotional abilities Gen Y and Zers possess are tremendous. On the other hand, not every employer is in a line of business that wants or needs this kind of attention. Topics older generations may not dream of sharing publicly are ones that younger generations post on Instagram. Employers have to be clear about what is acceptable, yet should also be open to the advantages social media may deliver to their organization. There may be new ways to broaden your reach and communicate with stakeholders that could be easily accomplished with these tools.
The main point is that recruiters have already gotten the ball rolling on strategies for recruiting young talent. With Gen Z, it’s just a question of building upon the changes they’ve already implemented. HR Professionals should be familiar with the generational differences and trends they may experience in the workplace.
In order to develop a solid performance management strategy for Gen Z, you need to take into account what’s important to them, as detailed above. Remember, performance reviews should be an open conversation, not a one-way judgment. In order to facilitate this conversation, the best performance management strategy you can adopt is a long-term one – focusing on building a positive and meaningful professional relationship with your team members. This should really extend to every employee, not just Gen Z, but the young generation definitely places a lot more weight in a quality relationship with their manager than older generations might. Once that relationship is built and tended to, here’s how to perform a successful performance review for both the manager and the employee.
Hopefully, we’ve helped you demystify your Gen Z team members! If you keep the traits and priorities we discussed in mind, hiring and managing Gen Z team members should be a simple and enjoyable experience. Best of luck with pushing your company forward and into the future as the next generation steps into the spotlight!
According to the Pew Research Center, in addition to zoomers, there are four generations in today’s workforce. While we should aim to understand employee needs at the individual level, it can be helpful to understand some of the high-level approaches to work and motivation that shaped each generation.
Traditionalists – born from 1925-1945.They grew up experiencing The Great Depression and World War II. They’re often motivated by recognition, and seeking stability and opportunities to contribute. They make up approximately 2% of the U.S. workforce.
Baby Boomers – born from 1946-1964. They make up approximately 25% of the U.S. workforce. They grew up experiencing the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. They are often motivated by loyalty to the organization, and seeking opportunities to be mentors.
Generation X – born from 1965-1980. They make up approximately 33% of the U.S. workforce. They grew up experiencing the AIDS epidemic and the dot-com boom. They are often motivated by work-life balance, and more so than previous generations, tend to seek flexible work arrangements.
Millennials – born from 1981-2000. They make up approximately 35% of the U.S. workforce. They grew up experiencing events like Columbine and 9/11. They also tend to be motivated by work-life balance, interesting work experiences and are often seeking challenge, growth and development.
While most businesses have made strides with talking about diversity in the form of race, gender, or religion, there are other elements that are often overlooked – like age!
Ageism is a documented challenge for many older workers, often driven by unconscious bias and coming in the form of succession and resource envy, or limited investment in training or development. Meanwhile, many businesses make the mistake of not cultivating age diversity amongst their workforce at all. And when they do, they sometimes fail to account for generational differences in work styles, approaches to communication, and needs – just to name a few areas.
The generational definitions provided in this guide are broad generalizations. There are, for example, many Gen Z employees that would prefer a traditional work approach or Gen X’ers who are extremely immersed in technology. But having a high-level understanding of the historical events, access to information, and influences of a particular generation can help understand and manage intergenerational conflicts or challenges.
For example: although all generations have been affected by COVID-19, older generations who experience layoffs are less likely to find new work because of age discrimination. On the other end of the spectrum, while older Millennials and Gen X’ers may have built up the social capital and relationships that make remote work suitable for them, younger Millennials and Gen Z’ers who have limited (or no) experience in the workforce may be struggling to make connections, build relationships or even complete necessary education in order to move into the workforce.
But how many of these conflicts and challenges can be avoided altogether? Quite a few, actually. Research has shown that generational differences aren’t as pronounced as we tend to think, and in fact, the belief in these differences drives much of the conflict and challenge.
In other words, by (whether consciously or unconsciously) expecting one group of people to behave in one way, we fail to see people as individuals and when we have natural conflict, these conflicts are chalked up to sweeping generalizations. But there will always be some people who are more timely than others or have different home needs than others. For example, most people from adolescence to old-age have family challenges or obligations, but the nature of these challenges tends to change over time. Insisting that there are massive and profound differences segmented by age blocks us from connecting and collaborating. And in many cases, being the victim of stereotypes impacts our behaviors too.
Similar to unconscious and anti-bias training used for race, discussing these beliefs and challenging them as they arise can be powerful ways to bring ageism to awareness. Many people, regardless of their intentions, can perpetuate bias in ways that directly affect how they interact with others. For example, research suggests that when holding the belief that older workers are inept with technology, employers spend less time training them and offer training at a lower quality and level.
Regardless of their generation or background, we’re often working on similar goals or within the same teams. By keeping the focus on shared goals and missions, we can be more collaborative, supportive and avoid seeing people as “us” vs. “them.” We’re also more likely to help others get what they need to be successful.
It may be easy to assume that certain challenges (e.g. childcare, familial obligations) only apply to set groups. But in reality, people of all ages often manage similar challenges but in different forms. While a young adult may be responsible for sending money home to aging family members, another adult may be taking care of children, while another is supporting their elderly parents in the home. We won’t all have the same experiences, but seeing challenges as unique to only certain people is exclusionary. By simply asking people what they need, you can ensure that you use their preferred communication styles, offer benefits that suit them, and retain them in ways that are meaningful to them – regardless of their age or generation.
Ultimately, while there are unique ways to consider generational differences in terms of recruitment, retention and satisfaction, it’s safest not to make sweeping generalizations. You can increase generational diversity and fight ageism and bias by challenging stereotypes, questioning assumptions and asking people what they need to feel supported.